The Sweet Story: Evolution of Pastry

As told by Ron Paprocki – Gotham Pastry Chef

The art of the dessert in New York City has undergone its fair share of changes over the past 30 years. But it’s not hard to notice that trends are coming full circle. Recently, there has been a distinct return to the simplicity of a well-baked pie plated with ice cream.

Gone for now are the days of deconstruction, mango caviar, and embellishments as tall as towers. This renaissance of the classics is due in part to a newly global dining base. Diners today have become adventurous, exposing themselves to more world flavors, and with that sense of adventure comes a more educated palate. Visitors no longer want to be “wowed” by garnishes and distraction, but are instead looking for the easy simplicity of a well-executed end-of- meal sweet.

Some years ago, the turn of the new millennium signified a push toward new technologies, the food industry included. Suddenly, new components like hydrocolloids and natural gums were brought into the kitchen, and chefs began to experiment outside of their rote classic dishes, favoring instead a more avant-garde, deconstructed style. An unsurpassed level of creativity was represented in pastry kitchens during these 10 to 12 years, but oftentimes creativity took higher priority over the understated boldness of individual flavors exhibited now and during the 20 years prior to the craze of deconstruction.

When Gotham first opened its doors in 1984, the pastry world was bold— much like the fashion and music of the time. The 1980s showed a penchant for embellishment and loud flourishes atop very minimalist desserts. As we rounded the corner into the 1990s, chefs took a more homespun approach and pastries became very sweet and laden with butter, which led to delicious, but rather heavy servings.

So what’s around the bend? The ever- evolving culinary landscape holds so many options that the next trend could crop up anywhere. According to Gotham Pastry Chef Ron Paprocki, chefs today have taken a shining to lighter plates more conscious of diet, and an open mind in the kitchen toward less traditional, more global techniques. and because chefs now are focusing on the nuanced detail of a single element (rather than on plating seven, nine, or eleven different elements to each dish!), we can look forward to a strong resurgence of the classic desserts we all know and deeply love—but with the fresh twist of light, modern refinement.

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